Fixed-income B.C. veterans struggle to find affordable health services

Butch and Theresa Boucher moved to Vancouver, where they find veterans' services harder to come by. (Jon Hernandez/CBC - image credit)
Butch and Theresa Boucher moved to Vancouver, where they find veterans' services harder to come by. (Jon Hernandez/CBC - image credit)

For veteran Butch Boucher, the hardest part about serving off the coast of Somalia was the unknown. He was part of a navy crew escorting UN food shipments to the mainland, ensuring deliveries weren't intercepted by pirates.

"I was tasked to supervise a team of seven people who were gathering intelligence to know which harbours were safe, where the pirates were operating, what ships they held hostage."

The threat of hijackings and abductions always loomed as hundreds of vessels were attacked in the region during the year he served.

"I didn't come back from that trip the same person."

Boucher, 59, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home. His wife, Theresa, also a military veteran of 10 years, suffers from the disorder as well.

After recently moving to Vancouver from Ottawa, the couple says they've run into financial roadblocks when it comes to treating their conditions. Rates for services like counselling in the city exceed what is covered by Veterans Affairs Canada's services and benefits.

"We're strained mentally because we're not getting those services," said Theresa Boucher. "It's so expensive here, and there's just a lack of military services available.

Advocates say there are many veterans in their position, a symptom of stagnant federal military benefits that don't reflect demand for services like counselling that have become increasingly expensive.

Submitted by Theresa Boucher
Submitted by Theresa Boucher

"The system is broken," said veteran Tim Laidler, executive director for Veterans Transition Network and a trained counsellor.

"This is what a lot of veterans don't realize — you're actually often competing for a spot to see a really good counsellor," he said, adding that many veterans opt to simply pay out of pocket for services as opposed to using their benefits.

Benefit limits

Benefits afforded by Veterans Affairs Canada through insurance provider Medavie Blue Cross vary from province to province. In Ontario, where the Bouchers used to live, couple counselling sessions, for example, are covered for up to $195 per hourly session.

In B.C., where they live now, sessions are only covered up to $120 — far below typical rates charged by service providers in cities like Vancouver and Victoria.

"It's really expensive in Vancouver," said Theresa Boucher. "We're really struggling as a couple."

Submitted by Theresa Boucher
Submitted by Theresa Boucher

Boucher says benefits offered in B.C. for physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and registered massage therapy — services they also received regularly in Ottawa for military-related injuries — also aren't enough to cover typical rates charged in Metro Vancouver.

The couple, who are retired and on a fixed income through a military pension, say they can't afford to pay the difference — particularly given the increased cost of living.

"These are all things that are directly related to our service for our country," Butch said. "Why can't we get the services that we've been deemed to require in Canada?"

CBC News reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada but did not receive a response by deadline.

The couple says they'd like to see benefit rates increased in communities with higher costs of living.

It's a sentiment echoed by Laidler, who says the issues of affordability and access to services have been mounting for years.

"You have to make the veteran clients more attractive to people who are running their own small businesses."